We already knew that Survivor 41 would be different from the seasons that came before. Its shorter survival period of only 26 days has been largely criticized, but host and producer Jeff Probst has promised that this season will be the craziest yet. To be fair, he says that every season, but this time we really want to believe him!
One of the main criticisms of Survivor in recent years has been the addition of so many twists, as they risk compromising the show's integrity and original appeal. And when it comes to Survivor 41, many people argue that the twists are not only making it harder for players to outwit, outplay, and outlast each other but that they are also hard to keep track of.
So, what are all the new twists and changes?
Twist #1: 26 Days
We were well aware of this twist before the premiere of Survivor 41 aired, but now we’ve learned a bit more about what the change in number of total days at camp means for actual gameplay.
With 13 days cut from the game (to account for the players' quarantine period upon arriving to Fiji), producers had to find a way to make this season equally, if not more, challenging than the rest. So right at the beginning of the first episode, Jeff explains that this season is going to be more intense than ever.
“We’ll increase the pace,” he warns. “These players will go 26 days, which means they’ll have to hit the ground running because there will be nowhere to hide and no time to hide. Plus, small tribes, no rice, penalties for losing, and you’ve got to earn everything. And even then, the unexpected dangerous twist can take it all away.”
We see this when the losing tribes in the immunity challenge not only have to go to tribal council, but must also give up the flint they’ve earned. In Survivor, as we know, "fire means life," so not having consistent fire will make things very challenging.
Twist #2: The Beware Advantage Hidden Immunity Idol
We first see this advantage when Jeff hides it at the Yase camp. In Episode 2, Xander finds one and must decide whether or not he wants to take the risk of opening it without even knowing what it is. He learns that it could become an immunity idol, but members of the other two tribes must find one as well.
Until then, Xander has no vote and no power at tribal council. So how will he know if someone from the other tribes has found it? Well, he has to say a goofy phrase at each immunity challenge: "I truly believe that butterflies are dead relatives saying hi."
He has to say this until the other tribes respond with their own goofy phrases: "I'm as confused as a goat on astroturf," and "I didn't realize this till now ... broccoli is just a bunch of small trees."
In Episode 5, the hidden immunity idols are finally activated. Genie finds it at the Ua camp, although Ricard and Shan convince her not to open it. Shan opens it and says the secret phrase instead, convincing Genie that she just wants to know if someone on Luvu has also found their idol.
Finally, much to the surprise of the audience, a member of Luvu finds the advantage as well. Naseer jumps in with the secret phrase, and we're all so relieved that they all have the power to vote now.
Twist #3: An Immediate Challenge on the Island
As Jeff explains in his cold open, Survivor 41 contestants have to earn even basic necessities. The first challenge starts while players are still on the boat, which is normal, but what’s not normal is that the losing tribes need to earn the rest of their necessities right away. When they get to their islands, they’re given the choice between “Savvy or Sweat.”
In “Savvy,” the team would work together as a tribe to solve a visual triangle riddle, and in “Sweat,” only two tribe members would be forced to carry buckets of water to bigger buckets. Both tribes choose “Sweat,” which gives big “Ethan carrying the logs up the mountain” vibes and allows us to learn a lot about the players more quickly than we're used to.
Twist #4: Protect or Risk Your Vote
The next big twist comes when one person is chosen from each tribe to go on a mysterious adventure. Survivor fanboy JD, ex-NFL player Danny McCray, and 20-year-old Xander are chosen for the job. They meet at the beginning of a winding path and are told to “get to know each other” as they walk.
At the end, they each need to make a separate choice: protect or risk their vote. It’s a choice that game theorists would call the “Prisoner’s Dilemma”: if they all choose to risk, then they all lose their vote.
But if even one person protects their vote, the players who risk theirs get an advantage. Danny chooses to protect his vote, and Xander and J.D. both take the risk, which ultimately pays off in that they win an extra vote advantage.
After the immunity challenge in Episode 2, Luvu could send any player from Yase on a secret mission. The Luvu tribe could then choose one of their own to do the same. Luvu picks Evvie from Yase, and Deshawn volunteers himself. Evvie and Deshawn are faced with the same dilemma, but anticipating what it is, Evvie makes a strategic move to make a deal and protect her vote, allowing Deshawn to risk his.
In Episode 7, Deshawn uses his extra vote to vote against Evvie, although Sydney ends up going home.
This "prisoner's dilemma" twist is now par for the course because it happens after every immunity challenge.
Twist #5: Second Beware Advantage
In Episode 3, Tiffany finds a different Beware Advantage. She learns that she'll have to sneak off on a boat at night, which will bring her to face another decision. She doesn't yet know what the advantage may bring, but if she fails to go on the boat, she will lose her vote at the next tribal council. Brad and Sydney then find the same Beware Advantage as Tiffany.
When they all sneak off their respective islands, they discover a similar prisoner's dilemma. In this case, they're faced with the decision to choose a tribal advantage, a tarp, or get a "steal a vote" advantage. If they all choose the tarp, they all get the tarp.
If they all choose "steal a vote," they all lose their vote. And if the vote is split, whoever chooses the tarp gets nothing, and whoever chooses "steal a vote" gets the advantage.
Similar to the "protect or risk your vote" twist, this one could have resulted in a few different outcomes. Tiffany and Brad both choose to steal a vote, while Sydney knowingly plays it safe — she'd rather protect her vote than come back with nothing at all.
Twist #5: Knowledge Is Power Advantage
After Shan and Liana are faced with the mountain climb and prisoner's dilemma in Episode 5, the two women bond. Shan has several advantages already and needs her vote for tribal council. So, she tells Liana that she'll protect her vote, which allows Liana to risk her vote and win an advantage.
Liana wins the "Knowledge Is Power" advantage, which allows her to ask any contestant if they have an advantage, only once. They cannot lie. If they have the advantage, Liana can steal it.
Knowing that Xander has the immunity idol, Liana turns on her Yase family post-merge to demonstrate her allegiance to Shan, Deshawn, and Danny.
However, Xander, who promises to play the idol for Evvie, knows that Liana might use her advantage, and gives both his idol and extra vote to Tiffany to hold onto. Xander effectively decides not to play the idol during what becomes a live tribal council, and Sydney goes home as Liana loses clout.
Twist #6: Turn Back Time
The "Turn Back Time" twist is perhaps the most controversial twist yet. In Episode 6, there's an almost-merge, in which two randomly selected teams compete for immunity going into the merge. However, at the end of the episode, Jeff gives Erika, who's stuck on Exile Island for two nights, an insane amount of power over the game.
Erika has the ability to "turn back time" or reverse the results of the challenge by smashing an hourglass. This would also give her immunity, so naturally, she makes it happen.
However, the twist basically proves that nothing in Survivor really matters — if even the results of challenges can be reversed, what's the point in playing hard?
Twist #7: Shot in the Dark Die
This twist comes into play right before the immunity challenge. Jeff explains that every player gets a die that they can use once in the game. If they feel they are in danger of being voted out, they can choose to use their die, which gives them a 1-in-6 chance of safety but forfeits their vote.
As of Episode 7, it hasn't really affected any voters' strategies, but it does get used for the first time by Sydney. Even if she had not given up her vote, the votes would have been 5-4-4, with Sydney still voted out, so she definitely makes the right call to try.
Of course, we can’t go without mentioning one of the biggest changes: There’s no more “Come on in, guys!” Jeff and Ricard decided for the group that “guys” is no longer an appropriate term for a group of all genders (even though Evvie, a queer woman, says it's fine by her).
Twitter was naturally up in arms about this, but true fans know that Survivor grows and changes through the years.
Tune in to see more twists on Survivor Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on CBS.